An antiquated and largely forgotten verse of the National Anthem has prompted officials at California High School in San Ramon to support a decision by student leaders to prohibit singing of the song during school pep rallies for the rest of the school year.
The school’s student newspaper, The Californian, reported the move in its Feb. 9 editions and said the decision was made out of a desire not to provoke racial controversy at the school, which was roiled by incidents of racist graffiti found in various parts of campus last year.
School leadership officers and Cal High’s winter pep rally committee opted to skip singing of the anthem after voices were raised in opposition to an unsung verse: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or gloom of the grave,” – words some students said they considered offensive.
According to the Californian story filed by student journalist Kiley Borba, a leadership advisor agreed the song was troubling and could make some students feel unwelcome.
“We didn’t really know why we were doing the anthem during the rally,” advisor Erin McFerrin was quoted as saying. “We just thought it was something maybe we could take out.”
Borba sampled classmates after the decision was made and found equal parts of umbrage mixed with apathy and even some outrage.
Senior Amir Udler told the paper the decision was at best, incorrect, and at worst, unpatriotic.
“It comes from a very disrespectful place,” Udler told the paper. “[Leadership] said it was in the name of ‘exclusivity’, but in reality, [leadership] is disenfranchising the vast majority of the school who loves the country, and who thinks the anthem should be played.”
The Associated Student Body (ASB) president sent a letter to students after discussion erupted following the rally.
“After learning about the third verse, the other ASB officers and I thought that this was completely unacceptable and must be removed from the rally,” the letter said in part. “We had nothing but good intentions by removing the song so that we could be fully inclusive to our student body.”
But senior Dennis Fiorentinos wasn’t so sure.
“I respect their decision to make the change and I understand why they did it, but I feel that the anthem doesn’t stand for that,” he said. “I feel that California High School honoring and respecting those who have died protecting our freedom is more important.”
The decision not to include the anthem at future pep rallies stands for the rest of the year, school officials said, after which the issue will be considered anew.